What are Prominent Racial Discrimination Cases?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 28 May 2020
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Racial discrimination cases have resulted in many landmark legal decisions, particularly in the U.S., which has spent decades debating the definition of “equality” mandated by its Constitution. Prominent racial discrimination cases in the United States have centered on segregation of schools, interracial marriage and voting rights. The courts of other nations have debated similar racial discrimination cases.

One of the most infamous racial discrimination cases in U.S. history is Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case in which the Supreme Court decided that “separate but equal” facilities were legal. This precedent legalized racial segregation in the U.S. for more than 60 years. During this time, racial minorities were often excluded from areas and activities enjoyed by white citizens.

Later racial discrimination cases, such as 1938’s Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, successfully challenged the constitutionality of such policies. In the Gaines case, a black student was excluded from a law school that did not admit blacks, and no “equal” institution existed. The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954, while justices were deciding the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The court determined that such “separate” facilities for blacks were rarely equal to their whites-only counterparts and that the act of segregation itself fostered racist attitudes among citizens of all races.

Although the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted black and other minority men the right to vote, many states enacted laws designed to discourage minorities from voting. Guinn v. United States invalidated in 1915 grandfather clauses” that favored white citizens, while 1927’s Nixon v. Herndon ruled that a black citizen could not be excluded from voting in the Texas Democratic primary. Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections in 1966, eliminated poll taxes that disenfranchised impoverished citizens, many of whom were minorities.

Until 1967, many states outlawed marriages between mixed-race couples. That year, in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional. This was part of a series of racial discrimination cases, starting with Brown in 1954, that effectively ended most state-sponsored racial discrimination in the United States, although racism itself remained a problem into the 21st century.

Other nations have debated their own prominent racial discrimination cases. In Australia, for example, racial hostility against ethnic Aborigines led to laws restricting their activities, much as similar U.S. laws focused on blacks. In 1982’s Koowarta v. Bjelke-Petersen, the High Court of Australia ruled that the nation’s Racial Discrimination Law overrides any conflicting laws established by individual states. The continued presence of such cases before the highest courts of the world’s nations demonstrates that racial discrimination still exists, even after decades of legal progress.

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Post 3

Racial discrimination definitely still exists. Even though all of these legal cases have tried to fight and prevent discrimination, it's very difficult to eliminate racist thoughts and prejudices. I have many African American friends and a few have mentioned being discriminated against in various situations. I think this just means that laws are important, but unless people change the way they think, there is only so much that laws can do.

Post 2

@ZipLine-- Yes, Brown v. Board of Education was a very important case, a precedent and also important for the way we understand the Constitution. It didn't end with the case though. De-segregation itself was a painful process and took a struggle. Just because the court ruled against segregation, people didn't say "oh okay." Many people resisted and Blacks had to struggle to make it happen.

This doesn't take away from the fact that the courts recognized segregation as a culprit and cause for prejudice, hatred and discrimination in society. So even though some struggle took place, it was the court case that made de-segregation possible.

Post 1

We are learning about the Plessy v. Ferguson case in class. Our teacher told us that during the time of racial segregation, Blacks and Whites could not even use the same drinking fountain. They had separate schools, separate areas and separate everything. I can't believe that people actually thought that this was okay at one point. And I can't believe that a court had legalized it. Thankfully, Brown v. Board of Education changed all that.

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